Thursday, August 01, 2013

Locals have role in Sun Bear conservation

SANDAKAN: Protecting habitats that are home to some of the most iconic wildlife on the planet, and supporting the running of centres for rescued threatened animals are not tasks that are limited to the government, non-governmental organisations and researchers.

Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre (BSBCC) founder and chief executive officer Wong Siew Te said both humans and wildlife are part of the ecosystem, and there must be willingness on the part of locals to chip in whenever they can in supporting the cause of threatened species.

Citing the recent “Big Dreams, Little Bears” event held in this east coast town of Sabah, Wong said BSBCC worked with a group of local volunteers and raised RM443,000, covering almost a quarter of the RM2 million budget for this year to complete a second bear house, creation of an additional forest enclosure and meeting some day-to-day costs.

“I hope people of Sandakan feel ownership of the centre because it is through their involvement, one way or another, that has helped the facility come this far and which will drive it further.

“Once it is opened to the public by early next year, it will become another important eco and nature attraction, allowing Sandakan to do its part for the world in promoting conservation. It will also lead to greater awareness on the plight of wildlife, and will also boost the local economy through tourism related ventures and other spin-offs.

“We hope to continue encouraging locals, especially the business community to support Sun Bear conservation. They can be the driving force behind public opinion on how the species and conservation are perceived,” he said.

He said locals must feel proud that the centre is located here, adding that the recent fundraiser had generated quite a lot of awareness, with the run up of the event widely covered through the media, including at a talk show on NTV7 and radio interviews.

Wong thanked volunteers and committee members of the fundraiser who had spent many hours to organise the event out of love for Sun Bears.

“We saw the people of Sandakan and other parts of Sabah supporting the event when they agreed to buy tickets for the fundraiser. Some outbid one another to buy three photographs of Sun Bears that were auctioned that evening. Others raised money through a Zumba event held earlier,” Wong said.

The centre promotes Sun Bear conservation through a holistic approach that involves animal welfare, rehabilitation, research and education, making it the first facility of its kind in the world for the species.

The centre was set up in 2008 under a partnership between the Sabah Wildlife Department, Sabah Forestry Department and NGO Land Empowerment Animals People (LEAP), and currently is home to 28 bears rescued from the wild and from the pet trade.

Located next to the Sepilok Orang Utan Rehabilitation Centre, the facility is creating capacity to release suitable orphaned and ex-captive bears into the wild, while those that cannot be freed will have an improved long term environment to live in.